On 16 November, the yellow vests took to the streets marking the first anniversary of the movement that was triggered by the proposed hike in fuel prices and swiftly morphed into a nation-wide action against Paris’ economic policies, tax reforms, and social inequalities.
The protesters were confronted by riot police using tear gas and water cannons. Over 100 people were arrested in Paris, where violent rioters smashed windows and ransacked historical monuments.
The year-long protests forced the government into taking conciliatory measures, announced by French President Emmanuel Macron in April 2019. The proposed measures included the elimination of the fuel tax that became the trigger for the protests, middle-class tax cuts, increasing scrutiny of tax evasion schemes and reinvestment the country’s in local administrations. However, the concessions failed to upend the protest movement.
Meanwhile, on 14 November, thousands of healthcare workers took to the streets in France’s capital and other cities with the slogan “Save public hospitals” being joined by French professional firefighters who have been protesting for several months. In June 2019 seven unions, representing 85 percent of the professional firefighters informed France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner about the forthcoming action citing problems with the emergency services.
Remy Chabbouh, national secretary of the firefighter union of the South, says that many of his colleagues want to join the yellow vests, since the freedom of action of traditional unions is now limited by French laws.
Q. : You are protesting with healthcare workers today. Are we witnessing the convergence of struggles?
Remy Chabbouh: Yes, we hope so. Both healthcare workers and firefighters belong to a specific category, we operate in parallel. We face the same personnel and financial constraints. When firefighters attend to an emergency it is directed by the Emergency Medical Services, subordinated to the Regional Health Agency (ARS). Firefighters and healthcare personnel have common colleagues including nurses, medical assistants, doctors or emergency doctors.
Q. : You say that the government did not take into consideration your demands voiced at the national demonstration of 15 October. You believe that the time has come to utilise the other modes of action. Which ones in particular?
Remy Chabbouh: For our part, today’s demonstration was the last one in its traditional sense when an application is submitted to the prefecture with regard to the demonstrators’ movement from point A to point B. We are going to resort to other modes of action starting in early December. Being an organiser, I can tell you about them. We intend to hold a protracted demonstration (for several days or even weeks) in one of the Parisian squares. We will embark on it from 2 December to 6 December and intend to settle there for a long time with tents and folding beds. This is a new form of struggle aimed at bringing together representatives of the professions that face the same problems as we do, as well as the general population. Having a sort of a static tent city will allow us to increase the amount of protesters starting with about 70 firefighters. And then we hope that 200, 300, or even a thousand people and maybe even more will take part in our action.
Q. : On November 16, the yellow vests marked the first anniversary of the movement. They call upon representatives of all the social strata to join them. Will firefighters respond to this call?
Remy Chabbouh: Indeed, a certain part of firefighters believe that the demands of trade unions are no longer taken into account. When one snubs trade unions and does not listen to them, some of our colleagues take the path of radicalisation and chose to proceed with other forms of action. Today, many firefighters want to join the yellow vests which enjoy a freedom of action that the unions do not have anymore. It is necessary to inform the authorities about the demonstration and its actual route several days before the event takes place. Today, unpredictability is the key to effective action. Yellow vests proved it. So yes, many firefighters are ready to join the yellow vests. The authorities would have shown common sense by raising the prestige of trade unions and federations. This would have facilitated dialogue at a higher level, because right now, it’s a real mess.